GENEVA, Switzerland, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- The Assad regime is guilty of crimes against humanity and of the worst-known Syrian-conflict atrocity, a massacre of 108 villagers, a U.N. panel concluded.
The regime and semi-criminal Shabiha mercenary gangs hired by the regime summarily executed the villagers -- including 34 women and 49 children -- in two Sunni villages in Syria's Houla region 17 miles northwest of Homs, said the independent panel appointed by the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate rights abuses in Syria.
"The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and the Shabiha had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, pillaging and destruction of property," said the 102-page report led by veteran human rights investigator Paulo Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat and legal scholar.
The finding was based on testimony from hundreds of witnesses and survivors who had fled Syria, as well as medical evidence, satellite images and photographs, all of which contradicted the regime claim that extremist insurgents had carried out the May 25 massacre.
The panel's report -- available online at scribd.com/doc/102985295/A-HRC-21-50 -- said the regime's version was implausible, pointing to evidence including independent verification that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad controlled a key village checkpoint -- and 47 witnesses confirmed Shabiha fighters entered the village before slaughtering its inhabitants.
The Assad regime refused to let the panel enter Syria to investigate "despite specific requests," the report said, so all its firsthand accounts were based on depositions from people who had left the country.
Nonetheless, "the commission concluded that the elements of the war crime of murder had been met," the report said. "The killing of multiple civilians, including women and children, was deliberate."
The two neighboring villages where the massacre took place -- Taldou and al-Shoumarieh -- are part of a cluster of agricultural villages that essentially make up a Sunni town. The town is surrounded by Alawite villages, a minority Shiite sect of the Assad family and its ruling Baath Party.
The report -- which will be presented to the Human Rights Council Sept. 17 -- said a pattern of using snipers to secure an area, followed by house-to-house searches and executions of wounded or captured rebels and their families was repeated in numerous cities and towns across Syria, including Homs, the cradle of Syria's insurrection.